The easy drive north got us to Jessie and Dave’s place just after noon and we settled in for what would be a fairly quiet two nights and one day as Jessie would be working while we were there. Dinner that first night would be excellent burgers Dave grilled for us, which was good as it helped to soak up the impressive quantities of alcohol we sampled from their well-stocked liquor cabinet.
The next day Joanna, Dave, and I set out for ride on the River Walk Trail, a 30-mile trail that winds along both sides of the San Antonio River. Starting on the north side of town at Brackenridge Park (which houses the San Antonio Zoo) it runs to the southern edge of town.
We would do the southern section, riding through San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which contains a number of Spanish frontier missions, including Mission Espada, the oldest mission in Texas dating back to 1690.
We drove to a trailhead at Confluence Park and then rode a short distance to our first stop at Mission Concepcion. The oldest unrestored stone church in America, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970. Originally established at a different location in 1711, the friars moved the mission in 1731 to this spot where Catholic Mass is still held every Sunday, appearing much as it did over two centuries ago.
We rode on south to our next stop at Mission San Jose, where we first paused to check out the mill on the outsides of the Mission walls. We spoke for a few minutes with a docent about the how the mill operated and then walked through an entrance in the wall surrounding the large grounds of the mission to get our first glimpse of the church.
Founded in 1720, this building was constructed from local limestone in 1768 to replace the original structure. The mission lands were given to its Natives in 1794, and mission activities officially ended in 1824. After that, the buildings were home to soldiers, the homeless, and bandits.
Starting in 1933, the Civil Works Administration and then the Works Progress Administration provided the labor to rebuild and restore the grounds of the mission and in 1936, the mission walls, Indian quarters, and the granary were re-built and restored.
Mission San José is part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. In 2015, along with The Alamo and Mission Concepción, it became one of five missions in San Antonio designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Today the mission is an active parish and is staffed by the Order of Friars Minor.
After walking the entire perimeter of the walled compound, we got back on the bikes and continued south on the bike path to our next mission, San Juan Capistrano. Founded in 1731 by the Franciscans, the current church began construction around 1760, but was never completed due to the lack of sufficient labor. Mission San Juan did not prosper to the same extent as the other San Antonio missions because lands allotted to it were not sufficient to plant vast quantities of crops or breed large numbers of horses and cattle.
Our final stop on the trail was the Mission San Francisco de la Espada, Founded in 1690 as San Francisco de los Tejas near Weches, Texas and southwest of present-day Alto, Texas, it was the second mission established in Texas. Many difficulties arose here though, and it relocated to its current location in 1731 and was renamed San Francisco De la Espada.
A friary was built in 1745, and the church was completed in 1756. The relocation was in part inspired by fears of French encroachment and need for more Missionaries to tend to San Antonio de Bexar’s Indian population. The Mission encountered great difficulties in presiding over the Indian population and experienced ongoing rebellious activity.
To sustain the activities of the mission, an acequia and aqueduct were built and can still be seen today. The main ditch continues to carry water to the mission and its former farmlands. This water is still used by residents living on these neighboring lands. In order to distribute water to the missions along the San Antonio River, Franciscan missionaries oversaw the construction of seven gravity-flow ditches, dams, and at least one aqueduct, a 15-mile network that irrigated approximately 3,500 acres of land.
We left this last offering of the San Antonio mission system and started back to the cars, stopping en-route to check out Hot Wells of Bexar County, a park site that contains the ruins of the Hot Wells Resort. In 1892 an artesian well was discovered on land then owned by the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum and it was further dug out to 1,750 feet deep, yielding 180,000 gallons of water per day. The water had a temperature of 103-104 degrees Fahrenheit and smelled strongly of Sulphur and thus was found unfit for daily use by the facility. The water was leased to Charles Scheuermeyer who became a pioneer in the field of water resources development and the earliest to emphasize the medicinal properties of the local Sulphur water.
In 1893, a small bathhouse was built and became the resort known as Natural Hot Sulphur Wells or, simply, Hot Sulphur Baths. In 1894, an early morning fire flashed through the bathhouse and the entire building was gone within an hour. The property changed owners a few times and then in 1900 a new natatorium was serving “ladies,” “gents” and families in three respective public swimming pools measuring 64′ x 90′ each.
By 1906, F.M. Swearington held a five-year lease on the Hot Wells Hotel property and reported that approximately two thousand guests seeking room and spa services had to be turned away due to lack of rooms. In late 1907, the Hot Wells Company began work on an L-shaped addition with ninety rooms so that by early 1908 the Hot Wells Hotel would have 190 rooms establishing it as one of the largest southwest Texas hotels.
World War I and Prohibition diminished the property’s popularity, until September 1923 when it was bought by Christian Scientists and converted into the El Dorado School. The hotel building, serving as the school’s dormitory, burned down in January of 1925 in less than an hour. The Bath House was saved from the flames by the Fire Department pumping river water on the covered passage from the hotel.
After that the property changed owners a number of times, even operating as a camping and park space with tourist cottages and a tourist park hotel until 1979 when it failed to sell at auction with the hotel and baths in ruins while a series of squatters overtook the trailer park and camp site remains degrading the property for decades.
In 2015 the ruins were officially deeded to the County, and it allocated $4 million dollars funding the first phase of a nearly four-acre park. The County went on to stabilize, landscape, and light the former hotel and bath house. It opened to the public as Bexar County’s first-ever cultural historical park in 2019, allowing visitors to safely explore the reinforced ruins.
We left the ruins and rode up to an area known as South Town to grab a beer and a bite to eat at the Friendly Spot Ice House. As it was Tuesday and Nachos were half price, Joanna and I split an order of the Chicken Ranch Nachos (grilled chicken, black beans, shredded cheese, jalapeños, and house ranch) and enjoyed a beer apiece, A Golden Road Spicy Mango Cart for her and a Real Ale Shere Khan porter for me.
Finished, we returned to the house and as we were still full of the large lunch, got some take-out pizza later for a snack and ended up repeating our assault on the liquor cabinet once again, thus drawing to a close a round of seeing good friends while traveling. Our next stop would be Galveston, which we had to miss last fall because of the car and Joanna’s issues with her mom. The trip would change dramatically there, but we will cover that in the next series of posts.
River Walk Trail: https://www.sariverauthority.org/resources/san-antonio-river-walk-map
Mission Concepcion: https://www.nps.gov/saan/planyourvisit/concepcion.htm
Mission San Jose: https://www.nps.gov/saan/planyourvisit/sanjose.htm
Mission San Juan Capistrano: https://www.nps.gov/saan/planyourvisit/sanjuan.htm
Mission San Francisco de la Espada: https://www.nps.gov/saan/planyourvisit/espada.htm
Hot Wells: https://www.bexar.org/3057/Hot-Wells-of-Bexar-County
The Friendly Spot: https://thefriendlyspot.com/